UK shields its borders against virus by keeping penniless residents out



A female passenger with two suitcases at London Heathrow Airport, UK, on ​​February 14, 2021


© Justin Tallis
A female passenger with two suitcases at London Heathrow Airport, UK, on ​​February 14, 2021

Colombian Mariana Aristizábal was due to resume her work in London within a week, but this Monday, strict measures against the coronavirus came into force on the British borders, with costly quarantines in hotels, fines and jail sentences, which, like many residents, make it impossible for her to return.



A staff member observes images from a thermal camera while a person waits at the reception of the St Giles Hotel, near Heathrow Airport, London, on February 10, 2021


© Ben Stansall
A staff member observes images from a thermal camera while a person waits at the reception of the St Giles Hotel, near Heathrow Airport, London, on February 10, 2021

“Taking into account the costs of the new quarantine it is absolutely impossible,” this 30-year-old actress and director, who has lived in London for five years, tells AFP from Bogotá, where last March she presented her work “The Two Of Us” at the Theater Deli Broadgate.

“We have a number of projects scheduled for 2021” and “it’s quite frustrating,” he says. But also, “somehow I left myself there too” because “I miss my life there,” he says.

Following the discovery of the new Brazilian and South African strains, the UK banned arrivals from 33 countries on a “red list” that includes all of South America, Panama and Portugal.

But it cannot prevent the return of British and foreign residents, so from Monday everyone who arrives is transferred directly from the airport to a hotel where they must stay for 10 days, paying about 1,750 pounds (2,400 dollars, 2,000 euros).

They receive meals in the room and must undergo two covid-19 tests, on the second and eighth day. Any positive result prolongs the quarantine for an additional 10 days.

“It cannot be easy for them to be locked in a room for 10 days, without going anywhere, so we do checks, we make sure they are okay,” explains Charlie Islam-Harry, manager of the St Giles Hotel, next to London airport. from Heathrow, which hopes to be part of the program.



A staff member cleans the surfaces of a room at the St Giles Hotel, near Heathrow Airport, London, on February 10, 2021


© Ben Stansall
A staff member cleans the surfaces of a room at the St Giles Hotel, near Heathrow Airport, London, on February 10, 2021

At their reception, a thermal camera captures if the newcomer has a fever, there is hand sanitizer next to the elevators and a special cleaning protocol is carried out.

But “at a time when we are all very short of work”, the cost is unaffordable for many like Aristizábal, who paid 500 pounds for a round trip ticket to go see his family in December.

Also for Santiago Peluffo, in a similar situation in Buenos Aires. “I can’t afford 1,750 pounds for a hotel when I have my own house in London,” says the 35-year-old Argentine writer, who has lived in the UK since 2012.



A hand sanitizer next to the elevators at the St Giles Hotel near Heathrow Airport, West London, on February 10, 2021


© Ben Stansall
A hand sanitizer next to the elevators at the St Giles Hotel near Heathrow Airport, West London, on February 10, 2021

He wonders, indignant, “the reason why the ban runs for the entire continent” when countries like Argentina have fewer and fewer cases. And it denounces “discrimination”, geographical and economic.

– Ten years in prison –

Alternatives? Few

Mariana’s flight, scheduled for February 22, was passing through Madrid and she could have stayed there “at a friend’s house” for 10 days before returning to London. But the European Union only allows nationals and residents to enter and since after Brexit the United Kingdom is out, so is it.

Refusing to quarantine carries a fine of up to 10,000 pounds.

And lying on the arrival form by hiding having been in a “red list” country, a prison sentence of up to 10 years.

For Peluffo “it’s ridiculous”.

For Britain’s Dominic Grieve, a former attorney general – the minister who advises the government on legal issues – “it is totally disproportionate.”

“The reality is that no one would get that sentence anyway, the courts are simply not going to impose it,” he told the BBC after the loud announcement by Health Minister Matt Hancock, which drew strong criticism.

“You just have to look at the crimes that have sentences of a maximum of ten years,” Grieve stressed, which include possession of firearms or administration of poison. Arms trafficking or abandonment of children under two years of age carry a maximum of five.

“I do not apologize for the force of these measures,” said Hancock, whose government has been widely criticized for its slowness and lack of firmness in the face of a pandemic that has left some 117,000 dead in the worst-hit country in Europe.

Meanwhile, Mariana looks for solutions so as not to spoil the life she built in London.

You have a temporary work visa, but in order to apply for permanent residence you must not be outside the country for more than six months.

If the hotel quarantines are prolonged “that is where my life in England came,” she says worried.

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